Thousands of people flocked to the Santa Monica Pier Wednesday night to say happy birthday to an old friend. As the Pier turned 100 on 9/9/09, Cirque du Soleil performers in colorful costumes greeted families, restaurants prepared for an influx of hungry party-goers, and live music filled the air all day. The grand finale to the much-anticipated centennial celebration was a fireworks display, the first one over Santa Monica Bay since 1991.
Kicking off with a 7 a.m. multi-faith blessing of the pier, the party didn’t stop until 9:30 p.m., when the last bursts of fireworks cast colorful light overhead. The midday bustle included a ribbon cutting, a ceremonial performance by the Los Angeles Brass Ensemble, and a re-staging of the historic photo at the pier sign. Thousands of people camped on the beach in anticipation of the fireworks, while others gathered in gaggles along Ocean Boulevard. Though parking rates at the pier were hiked to $20 for the day, people came anyway, many on roller skates, skateboards and bicycles.
By 8 p.m., the Funnel Cake Factory, The Harbor Grill and the Surf View Cafe were packed with people ordering heaping plates of fried fish and sugary stacks of funnel cakes, fitting fare for a night at the pleasure pier.
A group of four college friends from Austria wrapped themselves in American flag beach blankets as they strutted along the pier taking it all in.
Eleven-year-old Shayna Shnayder of Westwood, a student at Lincoln Elementary School, enjoyed the fun with her mother and two sisters.
“We love the Santa Monica Pier and we are excited about the fireworks show,” Shnayder said. “The rides and the ocean right next to it make it a special place.”
Lines were steady at Pacific Park all day, particularly in the evening hours, when people hoped to secure a coveted seat on the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel during the fireworks show. I was one of the lucky ones, taking my seat on the famed ride just as the show started. The view from the Ferris wheel was spectacular, and the proximity to the fireworks made the historic moment all the more magical. I shared my seat on the ride with 12-year Santa Monica resident Phillip Babazadeh, an old friend whose presence on the historic day felt just right. When asked what he liked about the Santa Monica Pier, Babazadeh immediately took out his phone and showed me pictures of his out-of-town nieces and nephews on a recent visit to the 100-year-old icon. “They love it here,” he said.